Finger in the dike, thumb in the damned

Sam Ruby has asked people to publish a link to this post about the iTuned RSS 2.0 to generate enough noise to wake the dead. Or Apple, whichever comes first.

I do admire Sam’s persistence in wanting to ensure that RSS 2.0 is and remains a valid syndication format. When asked why we should care, Mark Pilgrim wrote in comments:

Am I the only one who doesn’t think this is such a big deal?

Apple is an 800-lb. gorilla in this space (at least until Microsoft releases an RSS-enabled IE in Longhorn). iTunes is to podcasting as Internet Explorer is to HTML. RSS interoperability, at least as far as podcasting goes, now means “works with iTunes.” Thousands of people and companies will begin making podcasts that “work with iTunes,” but unintentionally rely on iTunes quirks (e.g. Disney’s incorrect namespace). This in turn will affect every developer who wants to consume RSS feeds, and who will be required to emulate all the quirks of iTunes to remain competitive.

Apple has effectively redefined the entire structure of an RSS feed, added multiple core RSS elements, made all RSS elements case-insensitive, made XML namespaces case-insensitive, created a new date format, made several previously required attributes optional, and created a morass of undocumented and poorly-documented extensions… to what was already a pretty messy format to begin with.

Yet what happens when Microsoft does release it’s own version of RSS? Or any of the other numbers of companies attracted to the wealth that is currently buzzing around what was, at one time, a “really simply syndication” format?

After all, the age of RSS is just beginning. Don’t doubt that it’s for real: Microsoft Corp.’s next operating system, the oft-delayed Longhorn, will have RSS built in. The company is even adding a set of technical enhancements to RSS, and giving them the blueprints so anybody can use them.

Why so generous?

Microsoft is convinced that RSS is about to become a universal standard for sharing all kinds of data across all kinds of networks.

Microsoft is convinced that RSS is about to become a universal standard for sharing all kinds of data across all kinds of networks.

RSS is big. If 2004 was the year of the blog, 2005 is the year of RSS. Heck, there’s even an RSS session at the Blogher conference. Seems to me that updating the syndication feed validator is about to become a fulltime job.

During the initial discussion on all of this, Phil asked a question about a proposed extension to RSS 1.0, mod_company, which doesn’t validate as either XML or RDF. I’m not sure what the question was but I think it had something to do with the importance of validation. If it is, I can agree with Phil: validation is important. In fact, so important that the W3C spent years defining a model and an associated syntax that could be extended safely, easily, and most important, validly. In other words: resistant to crap.

Crap. Kind of like what Apple introduced into RSS. Except that unlike RDF, extensions to RSS 2.0 require changes to the validator. And changes, and changes, and changes…probably about 100 million or so dollars worth of changes. It’s a good thing Mark Pilgrim isn’t weblogging, because he’s going to be a busy, busy camper.

Poor Mark, and he doesn’t even like RSS 2.0.

As for the microformat folk’s response to all of this, Kevin Marks wrote the following after hearing about the RSS/Longhorn calendar demo:

Now, being able to subscribe to an event calendar is very handy, but there is a much simpler way – using hCalendar and Brian Suda’s x2v calendar parsing tool.

I adapted the conference calendar page, to add an “hevent” to each session ( with help from Ryan and his hCalendar creator).

In other words, why use RSS 2.0 and a future version of IE, when you can use XHTML and microformats now?

It’s funny, ironic even, that what finally brings together all the semantic web folk–RDF and microformat alike– is RSS 2.0, an XML vocabulary that is neither. Why? Because unlike RSS 2.0 we’re both based on a syntax with an associated model for extensibility that doesn’t require a re-write of the validation tool any time a new company develops a use for it.

“Phil is using XHTML.”


“Shelley is using XHTML.”

“Shelley? A chick? I didn’t think women could hack markup.”

“Joe the Candy store is using XHTML.”

“You want I should care?”

“Martha Stewart is using XHTML.”

“Tastefully, I hope.”

“The Guardian is using XHTML.”

“Is Ben going to write about us? Do we have to hate him forever now?”

“Microsoft is using XHTML.”

“Oh darn, we’ll have to re-write the validator.”

“Apple is using XHTML.”

“Apple? Arrggghhhhhh! Saints preserve us! We’re doo-o-omed! Doomed, do you hear!”

However, I admire Sam’s diligence in helping to keep RSS 2.0 alive. No matter how difficult the task will be. Must make Dave Winer tingly all over with feelings of warmth and joy. So I’m answering Sam’s plea, and linking to his posts.

But I draw the line at trying to save OPML.

We’ll tag this post 

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